By Ghulam Hossein Adeel
January 13, 2016
Equalities or Similarities
This argument is based on the ground that human dignity being common to man and woman, they both must enjoy the same rights. In this connection, the point worth considering is whether on the basis of human dignity they both should have equal rights without any discrimination, or they both should have the same rights irrespective of their different roles in life. No doubt, human dignity being common to them, they both should have equal rights.
But What about the Similarity of Their Rights?
If we think deeply and consider very carefully, the first question, which comes to mind, is whether equality of rights really means their similarity also. In fact, they are two different concepts. Equality means a condition of being equal in degree and value, whereas similarity means uniformity. It is possible that a father may distribute his wealth among his three children equally, but not uniformly. Suppose his wealth consists of several items such as a commercial store, some agricultural land and some property, which has been leased out.
Taking into consideration their respective tastes and aptitudes, he gives the store to one, the agricultural land to another and the leased property to the third. He takes care that what he gives to each of them should be of fair value and at the same time should suit their aptitude. Thus he distributes his wealth equally, but not uniformly.
Quantity Is Different From Quality, And Equality Is Different From Uniformity.
Islam does not believe in uniformity between man and woman. But at the same time it does not give preferential treatment to men, in the matter of rights. It has observed the principle of equality between man and woman, but it is opposed to the uniformity of their rights.
No doubt, Islam has not in all cases accorded similar rights to man and woman. But it has not also prescribed similar duties and similar punishments for the two sexes. However, the total value of the rights accorded to women is not less than that of the rights accorded to men. We propose to prove this point.
Here the question arises as to “What is the reason behind certain cases of dissimilar rights? Would it not have been better, had their rights been similar, as well as equal”? There are two points and two reasons that their rights are not similar to each other’s.
First: The Islamic view of the position of woman from the angle of her nature.
Second: The effect of the physical disparity between man and woman.
One may argue that physical disparity as a reason to make them dissimilar in the matter of rights does not seem plausible, because physical disparity has no concern with the matter of rights. From the Islamic point of view they are both human beings and, as such, enjoy equal rights. The point which is worth considering is that man and woman are dissimilar in many respects. Their very nature does not want them to be similar.
This position demands that they should not be similar in respect to many rights, obligations, duties and retributions. For instance an attempt is being made at present to make their rights and obligations uniform, but how can we ignore their natural and innate differences.
Throughout history and all over the world there are clear examples of injustice to woman. We must say that it is essential that the position of woman should be reviewed, and the abundant rights, which Islam has granted her, should be understood and implemented. Rights throughout history which have been denied to her should be restored to her. What we claim is that non-similarity of rights between man and woman, within such limits as are required by the disparity between their natures, is more in keeping with justice. It meets the requirement of natural rights better, ensures domestic happiness better and pushes society forward on the path of progress better.
According to the Islamic perspective, it is proven that equity demands that in each case the law should have a particular form. That very form will be the legal form irrespective of any other argument to the contrary, for according to the basic teachings of Islam the law must, in no case, infringe natural justice and basic rights. The Muslim scholars, by expounding the principle of equity, laid the foundation of the philosophy of rights, though due to some unhappy historical events they could not continue the good work started by them. In this regard, Ayatollah Mutahhari says:
It was the Muslims who, for the first time, paid attention to the question of human rights and the principle of equity, and set them forth as original and self-existing principles unaffected by any contractual law. The Muslims were the pioneers in the field of the inherent natural rights. But it was so destined that they could not continue their work and ultimately, after eight centuries, it was further developed by European intellectuals and philosophers, who appropriated the credit for it. The Europeans brought social, political and economic philosophies into existence, and acquainted the individuals, societies and nations with the value of life and human rights.8
Also, apart from historical reasons, there was a psychological and regional reason which prevented the Muslims in Eastern countries from pursuing the question of inherent rights. In reality they did not pay attention to rights in general, and in particular, to the inherent rights.
The East is enamoured of morals and the West of rights. It is one of the differences between the spirit of the East and the spirit of the West. The man of the East is more sentimental and believes that he should be forgiving, chivalrous and philanthropic. But the man of the West thinks that as a human being he should know and defend his rights and must not allow others to violate them.
Humanity needs morals as well as rights. Neither of them, on its own, can be the criterion of high human qualities.
Islam has had, and still has, the significant distinction of simultaneously paying attention to both morals and rights. In Islam sincerity, forgiveness and virtue are sacred moral qualities. At the same time consciousness of one’s rights and the preparedness to defend them, are also equally sacred and human.
Nevertheless, the Eastern spirit has been dominant with the Muslims, and consequently, though in the beginning both morals and rights engaged their attention, gradually the field of their activity became confined to morals.
Islam attaches great importance to equality, liberty and human dignity and respects human rights. Every human being is a member of the same family. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and similarity are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no problem. It is almost impossible to find even two identical men or women.
• Islam recognises a woman as a full and equal partner of a man in the procreation of humankind. He is the father; she is the mother, and both are essential for life. Her role is no less vital than his.
• She is equal to man in bearing personal and common responsibilities and in receiving rewards for her deeds. She is acknowledged as an independent personality, in possession of human qualities and worthy of spiritual aspirations.
• She is equal to man in the pursuit of education and knowledge. When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims, it makes no distinction between man and woman.
• Islam grants woman equal rights to sign contracts, and to earn and possess independently. Her life, her property, her honour are as sacred as those of man. If she commits any offence, her penalty is no less or more than of man in a similar case. If she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensation equal to what a man in her position would get (the Qur’an 2:178; 4:45, 92 & 93).
• Apart from recognition of woman as an independent human being acknowledged as equally essential for the survival of humanity, Islam has given her a share of inheritance.
• Woman enjoys certain privileges of which man is deprived. She is exempt from some religious duties i.e. prayers and fasting, in her regular periods and at times of confinement. She is exempt from all financial liabilities. As a mother, she enjoys more recognition and higher honour in the sight of God (31:14-15; 46:15).
The Prophet acknowledged this honour when he declared that Paradise is under the feet of the mother. She is entitled to three-fourths of the son’s love and kindness with one-fourth left for his father. As a wife she is entitled to demand of her prospective husband a suitable dowry that will be her own. She is entitled to complete provision and total maintenance by the husband. She does not have to work or share with her husband the family expenses.
She is free to retain, after marriage, whatever she possessed before it, and the husband has no right whatsoever to any of her belongings. As a daughter or sister, she is entitled to security and provision by the father and brother respectively. That is her privilege. If she wishes to work or be self-supporting and participate in handling the family responsibilities, she is quite free to do so, provided her integrity and honour are safeguarded.
1. Al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-‘Uqul ‘an Aali al-Rasul, p. 30.
2. Al- Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol. 2, p.159.
3. See e.g. Ibn Majah, Sunan, vol. 1, p.644. This hadith can be found in many others sources.
4. Al- Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol. 2, p.159. Ibn Majah, Sunan, vol. 11, p.1207.
5. Ahmad b. Hanbal, Al-Musnad, vol. 6, p. 411.
6. Lois Lamya’ al-F’aruqi, “Women in Qur’anic Society” in Al- Tawhid, vol. 1. This article can also be found in the book: Status of Women in Islam, (1984: Sepehr), Ch. 3, p. 51.
7. Nawal Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve: Love and Sex in the Life of the Arad, Ch. 16, p. 144.
8. Murtadha, Mutahhari, Woman and Her Rights, Chapter: “Woman in the Qur’an,” (Qum: Ansarian Publications